En español | By now, I can find the intensive care unit on the second floor of Denver's Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center with my eyes closed. I've flown in from Texas, and my stepmother and I have made the trip into the unit's linoleum-floored starkness regularly since last summer. We're there to visit my father, an avid bicyclist who crossed the United States at age 68. His luck soured at 76, when a jogger jumped in front of him on a Boulder, Colorado, bike path.
His right shoulder was mangled, his right hip shattered. A Level III trauma center in Denver reconstructed the hip, but three weeks later we learned that the crash that cracked Dad's helmet also broke open blood vessels that were slowly filling the space around his brain. Later, at a rehabilitation center, he began losing the ability to talk and use his limbs. Surgery relieved the pressure on his brain and reversed the stroke, but he needed another craniotomy two months later when the bleeding continued.
Medical care gave Dad extra time. And the months spent in hospitals taught my family about helping a loved one through a medical crisis.
Handling the Initial Crisis
You might want to take charge when a loved one seems seriously ill, but don't: Call 911 instead. "If possible, call from a landline—and keep the landline open in case they have to call back for more specific directions," says Juan Fitz, M.D., assistant medical director of the emergency department at Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas. Waiting for an ambulance prevents car accidents and gives time to gather information about the injury and your loved one's medications, allergies, medical history, and physicians.
Fitz advises that, once at the emergency room, you should become the sole phone contact for family members and bond with a nurse. Then, if your loved one is in pain or has other needs, you'll have the nurse's ear. "We're there to help," Fitz explains, "but you know your family member better than we do."
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